iRacing Outlook: Conti's Swan Song, King's Return Highlights for Team JRM

Ron Lemasters | 2/8/2023

iRacing News

Michael Conti is joined by Kevin King this year to make up JR Motorsports' iRacing team.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 8, 2023) -- When the 2023 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series opens next week--at the virtual Daytona International Speedway--JR Motorsports' two-car entry will have a couple of veteran drivers who have an excellent chance to earn the series title.

For Michael Conti, driver of the No. 8 WR1 Sim Chassis Chevrolet for JRM, it will be a bittersweet event. Conti will step back from full-time eNCCiRS competition at the end of the season to focus on other opportunities. The 2014 series champion has been a top contender in the series for the past decade-plus, winning the title in 2014.

Kevin King renews a relationship with both Conti and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his ascension into the No. 88 Ledford Billiard Supply Chevrolet for this season. The 42-year-old King is a long-time friend and competitor of Earnhardt Jr., dating back to the early 2000s and the nascency of the sim-racing boom.

For Conti, 2023 represents one more chance to earn the big year-end bonus that goes to the champion of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Last season, Conti fell just short of making the Championship 4 and racing for the title, winning twice along the way.

"It's a little bittersweet to walk away," the New Jersey native said upon the brink of the coming season. "I think anybody would say the same thing. It's a good time, because I've accomplished a lot in the series, been really consistent and that's something I take a lot of pride in. We're always up there, contending for wins and championships, and we're always a threat, that's something any driver would love to have."

His final season, he hopes, will result in a title shot for him and the No. 8 WR1 Sim Chassis Chevrolet team and the chance to walk away a winner.

"This year, we just want to keep that going performance-wise, continue to contend and also have fun with it," he said. "That's the main goal, and not to take ourselves too seriously, enjoy the recognition, enjoy the spotlight a little bit and go out the right way. I think we've got all the components to do that, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens."

King, making a return to the eNCCiRS after some time away, is equally interested in winning races and having a shot at the big bonus in his No. 88 Ledford Billiard Supply Chevrolet. The fact that he's driving for close friend Earnhardt Jr. is just icing on this particular cake.

"Back in 2003 or so, a lot of us used to race NASCAR Racing 2003, and around that time, Dale Jr. used run a lot more online," King said. "We ran into each other in the online lobbies and always raced together. We raced so much a friendship was born at that time. We used to swap paint schemes a lot; he'd show me what he did and I'd show him what I had done."

King also had a hand in helping Dale Jr. on the real side of racing.

"I was able to do some paint schemes in real life for him at JRM," King remembered. "He's been a really good friend, and it's interesting that it all started on a video game. I've never raced in real life, but that's where it all started. We've known each other for nearly 20 years, and I get to drive the number I helped design when he went to HMS. It was very cool."

For Conti, it will be his fourth season with WR1 Sim Chassis on his No. 8 Camaro. The company is owned and operated by Chad Wheeler from his base in Oklahoma.

"We've been close, really close to a championship," Conti said of his tenure with Wheeler and WR1. "At the beginning of last year, we were sort of pegged as the favorite. But things changed—tires, aero and most importantly, our luck changed—and we couldn't catch a break and weren't able to bring it home for WR1 and Chad and all the other people who support this.

"There is one thing left to accomplish and that's win a championship for JRM and for WR1. I think we have the pieces; it's just a matter of executing and having a little bit of luck on our side. You can't discount how important luck can be. The biggest thing is to not psych ourselves out, not get too carried away. If we stay focused and continue to put the time in and execute consistently, I think a title for this No. 8 team is not too far away. It's a matter of just putting it all together and executing."

King, despite being away from the competitive nature of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series for a while, has had some time to get back into it and did quite well in qualifying races to make his return to the series. King will carry Ledford Billiard Supply on his No. 88 Chevrolet in 2023, the company's second year with JRM.

"Well, 2016 was my last full season (here), and the year before, in 2015, a teammate of ours won the championship," King said. "It's been 2016-17 since I've actually tried. I took a step back, raced here and there. In the past couple of years, I had more free time and it rekindled the passion for it. I rebuilt the group around me, and it worked out. I'm one of the oldest drivers in the series and I have a lot of other things going—career, kids, family—so it was really nice for me to get in and establish myself again. I may not be as fast as I was once, back in the day, but it was really nice to run well and I earned it. It was fun. I'm still around where I was then."

Conti, who was something of a prodigy in his early career, remembers racing against King as he was coming up.

"Kevin and I raced in the Coke Series in 2012-14, not necessarily of late," Conti confirmed. "I've known him since I got on the service 13 years ago. He was the guy from NASCAR 2003, he was Dale's buddy and he was the rules enforcer."

Conti said, with a smile, that King was someone you did not want mad at you.

"You didn't mess with Kevin," Conti said. "He had two rules that became the norm in sim racing. The first rule was, if you block, you pay. That meant you were going to get sent. The second was, if you pinch, you pay, and he would act on that as well. You raced him a little bit differently because you had those two rules in the back of your mind. I didn't want to run into Kevin King."

Reuniting with King in his final season is a chance to come back to the beginning for Conti.

"It's pretty cool, 12 or 13 years later, this has come full-circle with Dale and Kevin and JRM. It's going to be a really good year for us. We should have a good shot at the team championship, which has eluded us in the past. Kevin has a lot of experience and I'm looking forward to racing with Kevin this season."

Conti's team shuffled a bit over the offseason, as Adam Benefiel went from crew chief to spotter and Dustin Hall, who was on the virtual box for the now-retired Logan Clampitt in 2022, will be the crew chief.

"I've worked with him for several years and he knows his stuff," Conti said of Hall. "The other three cars that I work with in our technical alliance—Nick Ottinger, Matt Bussa and Jimmy Mullis—are all pulling in the same direction."

For his part, King remembered a time when he, Conti and Ray Alfalla battled to the wire for the eNCCiRS title back in 2012.

"We had a championship battle among myself, Michael and Ray Alfalla," King recalled. "He's (Conti) been doing this a long time as well. I went back and looked at the stats, and if I was fifth, Michael was finishing seventh, or vice versa. I've always had a good rapport with him, he's always been the nicest guy, very talented and well-spoken."

When he made the decision to try the top-ranked series again, Conti was among the first people he called.

"I reached out to him once I figured out where I was going and he was super excited," King said. "He's incredibly fast, and I wanted to make sure I'm not the guy who is pulling down the anchor. It's always interesting to me how long some of these guys are going to be doing this. It was very interesting to hear that he was taking a step back. It's going to be really fun and I'm looking forward to being a teammate with him on the track."

Stepping back into the series came with some technological improvements, King said.

"From just an equipment experience, we had wheels back then that didn't even have force feedback," he said. "Now, you have these direct-drive wheels that give you absolute feedback, you feel the bumps on the track, things like that. You can drive on the limit and you know where that limit is. You have to be in tune with what the car is giving you.

"Back then, we just had cool paint schemes. Dale Jr. used to have Hooker Headers on his cars because it was cool. You'd get whatever you wanted and just put it on there. Now, these companies are putting their trust and interest on you, so you have to go from being a lone soldier to an ambassador of that company and making sure you don't do anything silly. You're representing Ledford Billiard Supply. That's something I never thought I would see. Having the corporate interest is very good; it gets people more interested in it."



XFINITY Series Schedule

  • September 23 03:30 PM ET
    Andy’s Frozen Custard 300Texas Motor Speedway
  • October 7 03:30 PM ET
    Drive for the Cure 250Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
  • October 14 03:30 PM ET
    Alsco Uniforms 302Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • October 21 03:00 PM ET
    Contender Boats 250Homestead-Miami Speedway
  • October 28 03:30 PM ET
    Dead On Tools 250Martinsville Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Food City 300

Bristol Motor Speedway | 9/15/2023
1John Hunter Nemechek (P)20950
2Justin Allgaier (P)2085-10
3Cole Custer (P)2069-26
4Austin Hill (P)2051-44
5Chandler Smith # (P)2048-47
6Daniel Hemric (P)2042-53
7Sammy Smith # (P)2035-60
10Sam Mayer (P)2020-75
12Josh Berry (P)2010-85
14Brandon Jones631-1464